Leading the way

Washburn High offers leadership training for athletes as part of summer camp

TANGLETOWN – They come from a public high school with one of the highest graduation rates in the city.

It may not be a surprise, then, that all of the senior Washburn Millers football players are planning on pursuing postsecondary education next fall. Still, Head Coach Peter Haugen thought there might be a little more to the story than Washburn High School’s strong academics.

"We have 24 seniors and they’re all going on to postsecondary, which is a neat deal," Haugen said. "I’m hopeful the work we did in our leadership academy contributed to that."

Like many other high schools, Washburn has for the past seven years hosted a summer strength and conditioning camp for athletes. Last year, Haugen and the school’s other coaches added a new element: leadership training.

In addition to two hours of physical training, the athletes spent 30 minutes in small groups talking about what it takes to be a leader, both on and off the field. Once a week, on Wednesdays, they listened to a guest speaker lecture on the importance of leadership in life and business after they graduate.

What they learned, Haugen said, is the qualities of a good leader – dedication, the willingness to work hard and make sacrifices, high ethical standards – are linked to success both in sports and professional life.

"I don’t mean success in dollar figures," he said. "I mean success in something they’re passionate about."

Student athletes said the training has had an impact not just on their teams, but also on their school.

"It’s taught me how to be a leader, how to set a good example for other kids in my school," said Morgan Solomon, a junior who has participated in soccer, basketball and track. "… It’s made me more aware, I think, of my actions and just how powerful one person can be by making good decisions."

Senior Katie Gardner, a captain in three sports, said the group discussions during camp helped teammates open up to one another. This year, Gardner said, she made an effort to always be available to struggling younger athletes.

"I just make sure all the girls, if they have any problems, they can come talk to me," she said.

The leadership training also inspired Gardner to re-join the Washburn Student Council, which she’d left after her freshman year. This year, she was student body president.

Boys’ Basketball Head Coach Reggie Perkins said the leadership lessons were based on the "Changing Lives" curriculum developed by Litchfield-based Mark1, a company that offers fundraising assistance to nonprofits. This school year, teachers adopted the curriculum for their weekly advisory sessions with students, Perkins added.

Washburn Athletic Director Dan Pratt said student athletes already familiar with the curriculum helped implement it in the classroom.

Those students’ skills were also called upon when fighting broke out between student groups in the fall. In December, after-school violence sent four people to the hospital.

Following the incident, Pratt recalled, school administrators came to him saying: "We need these kids; we need them now. Who can we get?"

Junior football player Tony Catchings was one of the student athletes who helped diffuse tensions.

"If you’re going down the right path, then others will see you doing that," Catchings said. "It motivates them to follow you."

Haugen said 145 boys and girls participated in last year’s camp. The goal for this summer was 200 students, or nearly one of five Washburn students.

"The more mass you can bring of students doing the right things and saying the right things and acting in the right way, it really has a positive impact not only on your [athletic] program but [also] on your school," he said.

Reach Dylan Thomas at dthomas@mnpubs.com or 436-4391.